Come On Up To The House

I’ve been listening lately to the Tom Waits song, “Come On Up To The House.” This piece will be a reflection on it. Here is the song:

Come On Up To The House

Well, the moon is broken and the sky is cracked
Come on up to the house
The only things that you can see is all that you lack
Come on up to the house

The sky is cracked, and so is everything else. As Leonard Cohen sings, “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” Despite the fact that I can only see all that I lack, I’ve got to come on back to the house. Trust that by returning to this house I might just get the knack of living with my lack, letting it be there, not feeling attacked by it, not running away from it. Not asking always for it to be taken away. Learning to give despite my feeling that I have nothing to give. My cup runneth over, King David sings. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. But in the very preceding psalm he moans, My God, my god, why have you forsaken me? Let forsakenness live together with abundance. Get a higher unifying perspective. Climb on up to the house and from the window look down upon the lacking self, so full of longing, that finds no trace of comfort from the moon or sky. Be there in the empty room and see the broken moon shed a shaft of unbroken light across the clean wooden floor. Only a cracked sky can open up into the vast black universe of suns and stars and alternate galaxies.

All your crying don’t do no good
Come on up to the house
Come down off the cross, we can use the wood
You gotta come on up to the house

I can cry all my life about how I am lonely and wounded and paralyzed by self-consciousness and fear. How I am trapped in this body, how I am exiled in this world. How I cannot make myself understood. How I will never become who I am meant to be. It doesn’t do any good. I’ve got to get off that cross. Only then will I have both hands free to carry it. There is no time to be a martyr of my own self-condemnations, no purpose in playing the hapless victim of a soul-crushing world. The house is cold; we can use the wood. Come on up, carry that cross too.  Do not close the door on suffering or lock out the feeling of being locked in. Keep the door wide open: let the wind and birdsong in; let the scorpions and snakes in too.

Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
The world is not my home
I’m just a-passing through
You got to come on up to the house

“The world is not my home / I’m just a-passing through,” Waits sings, followed by “You got to come on up to the house.” I am a visitor in the world who will not remain, but here I am. It is my responsibility to be here fully. I’ve got to be here, got to come on up to the house, that symbol of refuge and warmth and belonging. I need to make this earth my home, in spite of my feelings of homelessness. No feeling comes for no reason. The traveler in a foreign country is homeless, just passing through, but he does not consider his passage through a burden. He travels lightly, and as he moves he lightens his load more each day, letting go of what he does not need. He lives in a roofless house that keeps moving and feels no need to nail it down to a solid and unchanging foundation. There is no foundation that time will not shift. The traveler does not know what will come his way, when or if some great shift of consciousness will occur. He does not know if the changes in himself and in the country he travels through will bring him happiness or unhappiness. He is open and receptive; he is at home with not knowing what will come. Whatever comes to him finds him at home.

There’s no light in the tunnel, no irons in the fire
Come on up to the house
And you’re singing lead soprano in a junkman’s choir
You got to come on up to the house

It’s dark, and it’s cold, and it’s been that way for as long as you can remember. You either have too many irons in the fire or none at all. Life is too hectic, or you have nothing to do. Come on up to the house. See the lit candle in the window. When it’s dark outside, the light inside shines that much brighter. It is not that coming into the house shuts out the darkness. Bring your dark hopelessness into the house. Bring your emptiness. Bring all those desperate songs you’ve sung in all those endless tunnels, through all those cold winter nights. But it is time to sing another song. There is no point in my selling junk, making a rotten profit from my shipwrecked soul, my divided mind, my sinking heart. There is value in everything I have been through, but the value is not monetary. Remember that line about old and new bottles. Stop re-living the past and re-selling the old. Come on up to the house and explore this new place. There’s no furniture in it. The rooms are bare. There is nothing to buy or sell. The house is not for sale. Its market value has never been established. It has no room for any of my old things: no closets to keep my old shoes, no shelves to store my old clothes, no cabinets to preserve my old wine. It only has room for the space in which the new can arise.

Doesn’t life seem nasty, brutish and short?
Come on up to the house
The seas are stormy and you can’t find no port
Got to come on up to the house, yeah

Nasty weather today. It’s the first day of April, but spring is announcing her entry with dark stormy skies and cold rain. Zevon: The phone don’t ring, and the sun refuse to shine. It’s the kind of day where I feel like shutting out the world, shutting myself up with my poor poor pitiful self, with my desire for the phone to ring, and my desire to hurl it as hard as I can against the wall; with my desire for life to be sweet and beautiful and long, and my feeling that it is and always will be nasty and brutish and short. But life alone is neither sweet nor cruel. Life lives outside of apparent discrepancies, outside the house neatly divided into separate rooms. Come on up to this other house. A strong wind blew off the roof long ago. Now roots push up and trees grow through the cracks in the floor, as in the ruined castle become jungle that my brother and I explored in the homeland. Linda Gregg: The cathedral with its roof blown off / was not less godly. It was the same / plus rain and sky. Birds flew in and out / of the holes God’s fist made in the walls. Come on up to the house where the air is too fine for human distinctions. Life seems brutish when like a bull you try to ram your way through it. Life seems nasty when like the hopeless romantic both you and Joni are, you want it all to be roses and kisses and pretty lies. Life seems short when you confidently assert that death is the end and spend your life resisting, with all the held breath and chained life force that is in you, the moment you breathe your last.

There’s nothing in the world that you can do
You gotta come on up to the house
And you been whipped by the forces that are inside you
Gotta come on up to the house

There’s nothing you can do because everything you do, when you do it because you can’t bear the vacuum that comes when you don’t do it, won’t help to free you. Let it be. There’s nothing you can do, but you’ve got to come on up to the house anyways. You can’t, but you must. Come on up to that place where you can. Where grace and help can reach you. There’s nothing you can do, but you don’t have to do nothing. Sit down and write anyways. Lace up your shoes and head out the door anyways. Keep working, anyway you can. Or sit there in the desolate house and do nothing. Wait. Keep your hands at your sides and let the forces inside you compete for mastery over you. Call you a good-for-nothing. Call you worthless and loveless and lame. Call you every nasty thing they can, until you feel like you’ll never amount to anything. There’s nothing you can do. Let them whip you without resistance. They cannot harm what in you has always been safe in the house. There is a force in you deeper than those forces, powerful enough to survive all their blows, to stand straight and tall; a force that cannot be made small, that was not born to cower in shackles beneath the whip, that knows it is free. It has committed no crime.

Well, you’re high on top of your mountain of woe
Gotta come on up to the house
Well, you know you should surrender, but you can’t let it go
You gotta come on up to the house, yeah

Your mountain of woe is the wrong mountain. It’s as if you have some intuition that you need to climb up in order to see the burning valley from a higher and broader perspective, but instead of setting out for new terrain, you build a mountain atop the pain you can’t seem to leave behind, and then look down upon it proudly. You get high on how low you’ve been. This is your mountain. You built it through relentless suffering. Why should you leave what you have painstakingly built? You are the architect of your own fractured psyche. Your dissatisfaction with what you have built is only proof that you are a true creator, for as the dancer Martha Graham writes, “No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest.” Oh yes, you have been blessed with unrest. So why do you rest on your own quite shakable and unstable mountain of woe? There is nothing adventurous or intrepid about that. Let your unrest force you to create work that truly reflects both where you are and its unimaginable distance from where you long to be. Surrender to and make tangible contact with your dissatisfaction, learn what it has to teach you, but do not put a halo around it and call it sacred space, untouchable and inviolable. Touch and taste the sense that no mere taste of life will satisfy you deeply. Do more than sample life, as if it is a rare dish, and you the expert taste-tester, chosen for your delicate palate. Instead, surrender to what life dishes out your way. Come down off the mountain, off the mound of your self-justifications. Surrender to your feeling that there is no ground beneath your feet. Place your feet on the ground and begin to walk.



2 thoughts on “Come On Up To The House

  1. Beautiful Brian. Never heard that song before, but read your commentary, then listened to it. Come on up to our house…

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